Deadly strikes in Gaza ahead of more truce talks

A boy watches on as the bodies of victims killed in Israeli bombardment arrive at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis (Bashar TALEB)
A boy watches on as the bodies of victims killed in Israeli bombardment arrive at the Nasser Medical Complex in Khan Yunis (Bashar TALEB)

Israel carried out deadly airstrikes in Gaza Saturday, including one on a UN-run school that killed 16 people according to the Hamas-run authorities, and as violence also gripped its northern border with Lebanon.

The fighting raged as diplomatic efforts to halt the war, which enters its tenth month on Sunday, continued with Israel saying Friday it would send a delegation next week to continue talks with Qatari mediators.

In a statement announcing the move, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's spokesman said "gaps" remained with Hamas on how to secure a ceasefire and hostage release deal.

That came after a delegation led by Israel's Mossad intelligence agency chief David Barnea held a first round of talks with mediators in Doha.

"It was agreed that next week Israeli negotiators will travel to Doha to continue the talks. There are still gaps between the parties," the spokesman said.

There has been no truce since a one-week pause in November during which 80 Israeli hostages were freed in return for 240 Palestinians held in Israeli prisons.

The war continued unabated, with Hamas-run Gaza's health ministry saying 16 people were killed in a strike on a school run by UNRWA, the UN agency for Palestinian refugees, that was sheltering displaced people in Nuseirat in central Gaza.

The Israeli military said its aircraft had targeted "terrorists" operating around the Al-Jawni school.

The military earlier said it had conducted operations across much of the Gaza Strip, including Shujaiya in the north, Deir al-Balah in central Gaza and Rafah in the south.

Shujaiya is among the areas the military had previously declared to be cleared of Hamas, but where fighting is again taking place.

Paramedics on Saturday reported 10 deaths in a separate air strike on a house in Nuseirat refugee camp.

The Hamas press office and paramedics said four journalists working for local media outlets were killed in strikes overnight, and UNRWA said two of its employees had been killed.

UNRWA, which coordinates much of the aid delivered to Gaza, says 194 of its employees have been killed in the war.

- 'Ball in Israel's court' -

The United States, which has mediated talks alongside Qatar and Egypt, has talked up the prospects of a deal saying there is a "pretty significant opening" for both sides.

US President Joe Biden announced a pathway to a truce deal in May that he said had been proposed by Israel.

This included an initial six-week truce, Israeli withdrawal from Gaza population centres and the freeing of hostages by Palestinian militants.

Talks subsequently stalled, but a US official said Thursday that a new proposal from Hamas "moves the process forward and may provide the basis for closing the deal".

Senior Hamas official Osama Hamdan told AFP that new ideas from the group had been "conveyed by the mediators to the American side, which welcomed them and passed them on to the Israeli side. Now the ball is in the Israeli court."

Pressure has mounted domestically for a hostage release deal, with regular protests and rallies in Israel.

"It's important that we reach a deal so that all the mothers can embrace their children and husbands, just as I hug my mother every morning now," rescued hostage Almog Mair Jan said in a recorded message to a rally in Tel Aviv Saturday.

The war began with Hamas's unprecedented October 7 attack on southern Israel that resulted in the deaths of 1,195 people, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on Israeli figures.

The militants also seized hostages, 116 of whom remain in Gaza including 42 the military says are dead.

In response, Israel has carried out a military offensive that has killed at least 38,098 people in Gaza, also mostly civilians, according to the health ministry in the Hamas-ruled territory.

The war has uprooted 90 percent of Gaza's population, destroyed much of its housing and other infrastructure, and left almost 500,000 people enduring "catastrophic" hunger, UN agencies say.

The main stumbling block to a truce deal has been Hamas's demand for a permanent end to the fighting, which Netanyahu and his far-right coalition partners strongly reject.

The veteran hawk demands the release of the hostages and insists the war will not end until Israel has destroyed Hamas's ability to fight or govern.

- Sirens and air strikes -

Israel and Lebanon's Iran-backed Hezbollah movement have exchanged cross-border fire almost daily since the Gaza war began, but attacks have escalated over the past month.

This has raised fears of a major conflagration between the staunch enemies that could draw in others including Iran.

Early Saturday, sirens blared over northern Israel and the military said it had downed a "suspicious aerial target" and two "hostile aircraft" launched from Lebanon hit open ground.

The military said earlier it had attacked "a number of Hezbollah terror targets in southern Lebanon" overnight, all near the border.

A source close to Hezbollah said an Israeli drone strike targeted a vehicle in eastern Lebanon Saturday, killing an official from Hezbollah. Israel said he was part of the group's air defence unit.

burs-dcp/jsa/srm